"The fuck...!" There was a cougar in the door.
All Bennie Doyle wanted was a corned beef sandwich from Richler's. A short walk, the old green door and a corned beef so good it could make you hurt yourself. So the cougar scared the shit out of him, and he stumbled back. The animal sprang.
Bennie's right foot went looking for concrete. In his fright he forgot there were two steps up into the deli. With nothing under his boot, he tipped and began a slow fall to the sidewalk. He was too scared to know it but the fall had bought him some time.
The writer looked up, round-eyed and shaking, thinking two things. First, the cougar seemed a little on the small side; he was unsure what made him think that, not being an expert on large predators cats. Second, he thought about an interview he read, with Jim Harrison, where the grizzled author said his problem with being a writer is that he could not see a cow without thinking the word 'cow'.
Bennie Doyle had 'cougar' stuck in his mind. He sensed the cold grit of concrete rapidly approaching his back, the cougar streaking towards him. Concrete. Cougar. ConcreteCougarconcretecougarconcrete. The words formed a rhythm in his mind. Bracing for impact but trying not to laugh, he coughed in a strangled whinny. The cougars paws reached for him, rippled golden-brown muscle tipped with pain.
Bennie slammed into the sidewalk. He was never so thankful as then to have the wind knocked out him. The fall had thrown off the cougar's timing; the wiry beast failed to latch on to Bennie's throat. The change in arc allowed him time to bring his arms up and grab the cougar by its own throat. The cougar choked and chuffed under the pressure of Bennie's shaking hands. His arms were locked in a rigid 'A' to hold the snout as far away as he could get the beast. He shook the stars out of his eyes, drawing a deep breath.
The cougar swatted at Bennie's sweating face. He felt a tug and a burn as a claw ripped into his cheek. Behind the cougar the door to the deli opened again. Mort Richler stood there, eyes wide and with a face the color of a raw pierogi.
"Bennie! The fuck you doin'?"
"What's it look like, Morty? Tryin' to kill this fuckin' cougar before it kills me!"
Bennie could feel his arms beginning to buckle. The snarling beast thrashed frantically, sensing freedom. Mort shouted again. "Cougar? What? That's not a cougar, dumbass! That's my wife's cat. Lay off!"
Bennie laughed hysterically. If it was a cat, it was a monster. He thought frantically, desperate for way to stop it. Choke it to death? Not likely, his hands were beginning to slip. Punch it in the nose? Wasn't that what you did to stop a shark?
Fuck. Think, Bennie. Think!
Above on the steps, Mort was babbling about his wife being pissed, she'd kill him, just stop, you crazy bastardstopstopstop...
Bennie blinked. It came to him. All he had to do was poke out the cougar's eyes. He choked back bile at the thought. It was do that, or the beast would rip his throat out. Bennie shouted and reached up a hand, thumb aimed at an eye socket. Mort jumped off the step, making a grab at the cat, which launched a frantic bite at Bennie's hand. It missed.
Bennie sank his thumb deep into the eye, screaming. The cougar howled like a doomed soul, vitreous humor gushing out of its ruined eye. Mort grabbed the cat and yanked, pulling it off, hurling curses at the writer laying sprawled on the sidewalk.
Bennie stared at the bloody mess of his hand. Blackness crept into his vision, fading into unconsciousness. He heard the faint wail of sirens approaching. The last thing he felt was a sense of relief, and he wondered a bit to know that he was no longer thinking 'cougar'. He only felt it. He slipped under the surface, passing out.
Everyone who came to see him in the hospital could only wonder at his smile.